Chinatown business owners, neighbors, meet with police to discuss area’s drug problem

Ikaika M Hussey

Downbeat Diner was packed this morning, even before lunch was served. The occasion was a meeting of business owners, residents, and police in the wake of attacks on at least one small business owner, Scott Michael McDonough of Otto Cakes, by alleged drug dealers.

Burton White, neighborhood board member and general manager of Hawaii Theatre, asked about increased police presence in the Smith-Beretania area near Otto Cakes.

HPD corporal Richard Fikani responded by citing reports that show that increased police presence can have little or no effect.

A resident responded by asking, “What is the police going to do to keep people safe?”

“We’re at the boiling point,” the resident said.

An audience member, said, “You say you’re short-staffed, but lots of people are getting ticketed for cellphone violations on Nuuanu [avenue].”

Officer Fikani didn’t respond directly to this question in the community meeting, but later said that those officers are funded through a separate federal grant, and aren’t part of the small number of regular beat officers.

“I understand you’re frustrated. But what are we going to do? Venting doesn’t get nothing done,” Officer Fikani said. Fikani proceeded to call on residents and businesses to call HPD when assistance is needed.

Josh Hancock, proprietor of Downbeat Diner, said that Otto had called several times for assistance, but arrests haven’t been made.

Mr. White suggested that a visual campaign at establishments in the district to let drug dealers know that they would be reported on.

Officer Fikani said that police presence will just move the problem around, from block to block.

“It’s not the solution,” he said.

Mr. White responded by saying that, “We’ve asked police to move cars, and it’s worked.”

Officer Fikani agreed, at this point, to ask lieutenants to move their cars around.

Otto raised the issue of his multiple attempts at contacting the police.

“I’ve called so many times, but the person keeps coming back,” he said.

Officer Fikani responded by saying that he can’t do anything once the suspect goes through the judicial process.

One business owner described being the victim of shoplifting, only to find the alleged shoplifter selling his stolen wares at Aala park – after HPD was called.

“You’re so concerned about their civil rights – what about ours?,” the business owner said.

An older man seated in a booth said that he has been part of the Chinatown community for 60 years. He said that he knew many people who are afraid to report illegal activity to the police, for fear of retaliation.

Otto described calling HPD, after being attacked in front of his own bakery.

“Police came down. All the people around were friends of the with the person who beat me up, so the story turned around [against me]. Not one officer has called me about this case,” he said.

A business owner said, “Is Otto going to get killed before something gets done?”

Officer Fikani said, “I’m offering something right now. If you call the police, call me and I’ll come down the next day or that day if I’m working, and look into it.”

“I’m offering personal service, one-on-one service. But if you don’t call me, I can’t do that,” he said.